by Hardy Jones
I was named after Dad. Hardy Sims Jones, Jr.: two little letters and a period are not much to make my own. In my youth, I accused my parents of being lazy and not taking the time to think of an original name for me, to which Mom explained that when I was born they still had not decided on a name, and when the hospital worker asked her what she wanted to name her baby, she chose Dad's name because he was fifty-five, Mom was thirty-seven, and she knew he would not have any more children.
Mom claimed her family was part Cheyenne and Dad claimed Cherokee in his ancestry, so when I was ten years old I concluded that a Native American name would be appropriate for me. At the time I had golden blonde hair, not the most stereotypical Indian trait, but Mom always pointed my high cheekbones and said, "That's the Indian in you."
At that time the only Native American names I knew were Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and already having another man's name, I didn't want one of theirs. I liked the names that incorporated animals, and my two best friends at the time were our Pal and Mountie, our German Shepherd and Malamute. So I thought of names that used the word dog: Fighting Dog, Running Dog, Sitting Dog, Plays with Dogs, Hunts with Dogs.
Yes, Hunts with Dogs.
Behind our house was a small bit of forest that separated our place from the rest of the Osceola subdivision, and here was where I hunted with Pal and Mountie. Did I hunt deer, elk, bear, javelinas? No. My prey of choice were large wood rats that lived in underground nests, and Mountie, with his large paws that worked like a dredge line, dug up the rats' nest, while Pal pounced on the escapees. Hunting rats does not sound heroic, but Dad raised game birds and the rats cut into his profits by eating eggs and the chicks. So I "heroically" did my share to save the family business some money.
A few days after I began calling myself Hunts with Dogs, Dad called me Hardy.
"I'm Hunts with Dogs." I tried to remain as stoic as the Native Americans I'd seen in movies.
"What the hell you talking about, boy?"
"My Indian name is Hunts with Dogs."
"Why not call yourself Dirty Dog?"
"I'm not dirty and I'm not a dog."
"You ain't no hunter either."
Dad had a point. While I accompanied the dogs on these hunts, they were the ones that found the nests and killed the rats. "Tags along with Dogs on Hunt" would have been more accurate.
I decided that in order to get in touch with my Indian heritage I needed to enact a ritual. I owned a red bandana and had a pair of maracas from a family trip to Mexico; I would use these to perform my Native American naming ritual. Mind you, at this time all I knew about Native American rituals was what I'd seen in Westerns, which consisted of wearing feathered headbands (I used a golden tail feather from a pheasant), dancing in circles, beating drums, and singing Ha-ya-ha-ya...So I adorned my red bandana with the golden feather standing proudly in the back, shook my maracas, and danced and sang around the oblong coffee table in the living room. I knew that my Native American name would be brought on the wind by my great warrior ancestors. But then a new fear arose: what if the Cheyenne ancestors wanted one name for me and the Cherokee wanted another name? Would there be war in the spirit world?
When conducting my ritual, I made sure Dad was out of the house. After his dirty dog comment, I knew he wouldn't understand my naming ritual. Dad fed his birds in the afternoon, 4 to 5, and then came in the house to watch the news. I generally helped Dad feed the birds, except on the days when I had an extra amount of homework, and for the following week, I made certain Dad believed that I was loaded down with it.
On Friday I inserted the golden feather at the back of my red bandana, got the maracas out of my closet, and as I had done for the four previous afternoons I danced and yelped around the coffee table. All week I danced clockwise and no name came to me, so on Friday I went counter clockwise. Immediately I had a different feeling. I felt more alive, more attune to the ancestors…
"What the sam hell you doing, boy?"
"Trying to discover my true Indian name."
"We ain't Indian."
"You said we have Cherokee in us."
"We do, but it's been diluted by the white folks. Now get your ass outside and help me fee the birds."
After my failed attempt at divining a Native American name, I tapped into the Cajun French part of my ancestry—which came via Mom. I pondered Pierre and Jacques, but they sounded too common. With Mom's help, who thought she was only playing a game with her son, I decided on Edgar. Reading that name, I know it appears rather Anglo, but when I heard Mom pronounce it—Edgah—the name was unique.
The next day at school I signed my spelling test Edgar Jones. Only, not being accustomed to spelling the name in cursive, I spelled it: E-e-d-g-a-r. When Mrs. Carter passed back our tests, a befuddled look came on her face and she finally asked: "Who is Edgar?"
She passed back everyone else's test and then asked me to see her in the hall.
"Your name is Hardy."
"I changed it."
"Do your parents know this?"
"Until I receive official notification, in this class you are still Hardy."
Normally I was an active participant in class, but knowing that Mrs. Carter would not call my by my new name, I remained quiet for the rest of the day.
When I returned home that day, Dad met me in the kitchen.
"My name ain't good enough for you, boy?"
Mrs. Carter had called him.
"I want my own name."
"The name I gave you ain't only about you. Hardy was your Grand-grandmother's name and Sims your Grandmother's maiden name."
I had searched for a name that connected me to an Indian or Cajun past when I already had a name that linked me to my ancestors. And hearing Dad's explanation of the names, I realized that he too didn't have his own name. We were both simply links in our family's chain, and I, like Dad, needed to be a proud link.
Dad passed away when I was eighteen, and now I am thirty-seven. When someone calls me Hardy, I momentarily think about Dad, and this is a delicious moment when I have the man for whom I was named again with me.
Hardy Jones's nonfiction and fiction has appeared in over two dozen journals. His novel Every Bitter Thing (Black Lawrence Press) published in July 2010. He is the Director of Creative Writing at Cameron University.